The core principle of Fyrnsidere hearth praxis is ancestor worship. If you, like me, have grown up in a predominantly Christian-centred family and society, this principle may seem slightly at odds with what one would associate with religious praxis. Your ancestors, for example, are not considered to be Gods (Though many may feel we are ultimately descended from such) however our ancestors are the most significant aspect of anyone’s life and yet perhaps the most neglected in common, day to day life amongst non-heathens.
It’s curious really because without our forebears, our ancestors, we are nothing. We wouldn’t be here! Over the millennia, people have made decisions to meet someone else, to procreate, to marry, to love, to leave, to live and to die for myriad reasons and yet, ultimately, you have come into existence as a direct and indirect consequence. This goes beyond our immediate family members, beyond your mother and father, beyond your grandparents and your great-grandparents but actually takes us back through the annals of recorded and unrecorded time to the very birth of the human race. You are the result of thousands upon thousands of years of evolution.
Lucky you, right?
And therein lays the concept of Orlæg (Pronounced “Orr-lay”) which is the inherited “luck” from those who came before you. Orlæg sets the tone, or the very foundation of your life. It is what determines the fundamental social and metaphysical level at which your life begins. Orlæg dictates how wyrd (Pronounced as in modern “Word” with a rolled, rhotic “R”)arranges itself in your life. A usefully analogy, shamelessly borrowed from the Lārhūs Fyrnsida website, is that Orlæg is like the foundation of a house and it dictates the size, shape and form of the finished product. Like we inherit certain physical traits from our forebears, we also inherit their luck, or mægen which dictates very much our initial foundations in life.
And so we come also to the concept of Mægen (Pronounced “May-en” or “Main”). Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon dictionary defines ‘Mægen’ as “MAIN, might, strength, force, power, vigour, efficacy, virtue, faculty, ability”. It represents not only physical attributes but also the metaphysical and, somewhat crudely, can be referred to in modern terms as “luck”, a sort of inner power not dissimilar to “qi” or “mana” as described by Eric Wodening in We Are Our Deeds. It is an inner force or might that each of us have in some capacity, and yet we can choose to lend it to others or to affect the flow of wyrd by making decisions each and every day that ultimately affect our own lives and those of others around us.
The gifting cycle that is so important in heathenry, follows up on this principle of Mægen as it represents our attempts to affect our journey along the flow of wyrd by giving something of ourselves to another. This may be to a fellow member of the hearth, our kin, to someone amongst our tribe, to our ancestors, to the Cofgod, land wights or to the Gods themselves. Each time we are giving, we are aiming to receive in return. The purpose of gifting is to improve our own circumstances in a way which benefits us or our hearth or tribe. Historically, kings would distribute wealth amongst their warriors and other folk in return for service or pledges of allegiance. The king would offer his warriors spēd (speed) when they were to embark on perilous journeys or go into battle in his name, thereby publically attempting to share his Mægen with them in return for their service. To fail to reciprocate would be to invite failure on the whole system which relies on loyalty and honest gift-giving.
In modern times, we continue to make offerings or gifts, to members of our hearth and to those we seek to influence in some way so as to receive a reciprocal benefit somewhere along the line. Thus do we offer service to the elderly, infirm or the very young in the form of care and attention, service to our community in the form of holding and maintaining jobs or positions of responsibility and so, too, do we offer to our ancestors by remembering them, speaking to them and pledging a service, making a libation or making a sacrifice in return for their continued influence over your life or that of your hearth and community.
This is a cosmic balance that must be maintained. It cannot be the case that you can take without ultimately giving back at some stage, whether you plan to or not. If you do not give, you will never receive or that which you do receive, may just as easily be taken from you again. I liken it to if I am not receiving that which I desire, then perhaps it is because I am not making enough effort to give, first. If I receive something unexpected, then I expect to “repay” the debt by making a gift of something else in gratitude.
We are forever indebted to our ancestors for the decisions they made and the lives they lived that have enabled us to be here today. They, more so than the Gods, receive the majority of our attention, offerings and worship because they relate to us directly. The Gods have their own agendas, their own paths along the way of wyrd for them to consider and whilst it is right to us to show them respect, to honour them and to gift to them as appropriate, their impact on our lives should be considered to be far lesser than that of our ancestors who have a vested interest in our success. I do not necessarily consider that the gods are distant, so much as I think they will be far less likely to respond to a dedicated offering from a single heathen at his wēohfod (Pronounced “we-ovod”, meaning altar or place of offering) than they would to, say, a whole community getting together to make an offering in a public ritual. That is not to say that personal rituals are meaningless, nothing could be further from the truth. If you ignore the Gods then you are guaranteeing that they, in turn, will ignore you right back! A relationship with the Gods must be cultivated over time and you will know when that relationship becomes somewhat more tangible. A relationship with your ancestors may also require patience and will certainly require dedication.
Time spent learning about your family history is time well spent. I have been fortunate enough to be able to trace my family tree back on my father’s side to the 1700’s but I would love to go back even further than that if I am able.
Honour your roots, they are what each and every one of us grow from since the moment we are conceived.